As long as I can remember, my family has loved the national parks. The parks preserve and protect our country’s natural wonders and are home to some of the most beautiful mountains, forests, and wildlife in the world.
The parks give many of us an escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life and remind us of the simple joy of exploring the outdoors. I had no idea my family’s love for public lands and all those trips we took growing up would lead to the creation of a board game, but it’s been an amazing experience along the way. (This is 8-year-old me, below, when we hiked Half Dome.)
Let’s go see some parks.
In 2009, my parents John and Terry Binkele devised a life goal to visit all the major national parks of America. It was a monumental undertaking, requiring countless hours of planning and travel, but it proved to be a wonderfully vitalizing experience for them. Luckily for me, I was also able to join them on many of the trips. Along the way, my dad John used his camera to capture each park they visited. He then used these breathtaking snapshots, alongside their incredible stories, to educate others online.
Besides visiting national parks, my family also loves playing board games together. Since I played a lot of tabletop board games, I'd bring a game along with me when I'd visit. We’d have dinner, talk about my parents’ recent national park trip, and then play a game.
One evening, while meeting my parents for dinner and games, they floated an appealing idea to me. What if we made a board game about visiting the national parks? Having worked as a freelance artist and game developer, I was struck by the idea and immediately set out designing and illustrating the game that would eventually become Trekking the National Parks.
The making of a game.
Our goal was to make a family-friendly game that was fun to play, easy to learn, educational, and inspiring. We did a lot of experimenting to get it right. My family met every week for over a year playtesting and fine-tuning the game until we felt it was ready for the world.
In the summer of 2014, we shared our project on Kickstarter where it successfully funded, allowing us to self-publish the game. It felt great to have it done, but this was only the beginning. Now we had to spread the word, market the game, and fulfill orders. These were not easy tasks.
My dad contacted national parks, one by one, to try to get the game into visitors’ centers. Meanwhile, we took the game around to conventions and events, working to sell the game directly to consumers. During one of these events, we came across someone who recommended we submit the game for a Mensa award. We did, and the next year in 2015, the game won a Mensa Select Award—a huge honor!
A single game leads to a company.
Not long after the Mensa award, I received a phone call from someone who wanted to talk to the person who made a national park game. This ended up being Hasan Hasmani, who is my partner and co-founder of Underdog Games. He had just returned from a trip to the Grand Canyon and thought more people should know about our game. (That's us pictured below, hiking the Sedona area shortly after we met.)
You can read more about this story here, but with this next chapter, Hasan and I were able to create a second edition of the game and launch a plan to get it out to a lot more people. Since then, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve been featured in the New York Times, GQ, Outside magazine, and many more. We’ve also hit #1 on Amazon in the game board category, which has been a really big accomplishment for a small, independent company like ours.
Today, Trekking the National Parks is going strong, and we still hear from people every day who love the national parks just like we do. I’m even working on another national parks game, which I hope to share more about soon.
When we first released Trekking the National Parks, my parents hadn’t been to all the national parks yet. Then on September 19, 2017, they finally accomplished their life goal of visiting all the major parks, ending their journey by visiting the remote National Park of the American Samoa. Of course, the national parks fans out there know that four more parks have been added since 2017. My parents have visited all the recent additions and are enjoying retirement.
I’m proud of my parents’ grand accomplishment and what they worked to create. Trekking the National Parks is more than a game to me, it’s a family legacy—and I am happy to share it with you and your family.